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China: The "Middle Kingdom," Population, and Industrialization

S. W. Moore teaches spoken English, business English and U.S. history at Datong University in China. He writes articles on various topics.

China has a long and tumultuous history

China has a long and tumultuous history

A Tumultuous History

China's history is long and varied. From ancient to modern times, she has seen and made great strides both in her influence around the world and amongst those of her own people. China is the originator of inventions like paper, printing, the compass, and gunpowder. The Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and the Yun Gang Grottoes are only a touch of the magnificent architectural structures that the Chinese have forged in their long history. However, China has also experienced devastating times that have nearly destroyed it and its people. From the feudal dynasties of the past to the failed and disastrous policies of the "Great Leap Forward", China has seen and experienced times that were almost her undoing. In the midst of her roller coaster ride, however, one thing has remained constant: the Sino-centrism of the Chinese people.

The Middle Kingdom

This attitude can most readily be seen in China's name for itself: 中国 (pronounced zhōng guó) literally means middle kingdom. From ancient times the Chinese have thought of themselves as superior people who ruled all others from the center of the world. If you weren't Chinese, you were either a barbarian or at best, a vassal who was forever a servant of the Chinese. While this belief has changed in modern times, the Chinese people today still have a nationalistic pride in their country.

China has long been known for its belief in and use of "soft power"; that is, the domination of another country not by force, but rather through subtle cooperation and attraction. This use of soft power has been around for centuries, even if it has not always been intentional. Many characteristics of Chinese culture have been adopted by neighboring countries. Japan, Korea, and others share certain aspects of Chinese religious beliefs, written script, and the predominant importance of the group being more important than the individual. In more modern times, this use of soft power can be seen in the acceptance of cheap Chinese labor from other countries, which has brought billions of dollars in income to the Chinese government and its people. Even as recently as 2007, Chairman Hu Jintao informed the 17th Communist Party Congress that it was important for China to increase its use of power.

The Population Explosion

Of course, with the increase of power and prestige comes a whole new slew of problems. In China this is seen most predominately in the issue of population growth; a continuing problem that has yet to be fully addressed or solved. Even though steps have been taken in recent years to curb the population explosion, it appears to be a problem that will haunt China for many years to come.

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Probably the most devastating quest initiated by China's first chairman, Mao Zedong, was to declare that there was power in numbers, thus encouraging an already extremely large population of people to begin propagating at an unprecedented rate. In 1949, the first year of Mao's reign, the population of China was already at 541 million, nearly twice that of the population of the United States, the world's third-largest country, in 2011. Today, China boasts, albeit not proudly, of having more than 1.3 billion people at its disposal. China, which has only 7% of the world's arable land, nonetheless holds roughly 20% of the world's population.

Despite the fact that nearly 30 million people died due to the disastrous policies instituted during the "Great Leap Forward", and the many policies put forth by the Chinese government to curb the number of births in China, many other factors have contributed to great increases in the numbers of Chinese people. Amongst these was the fact that between 1945 and 2008, the infant mortality rate fell from 200 per 1,000 to 23 per 1,000. In addition, life expectancy rose from an average of 35 to 74 years. When China instituted the one-child policy, it was predicted that China's population would be around 1.25 billion by 2000 and decrease to 500 million by 2070. But these numbers have proven to be way off. In 2000 the population was already at 1.27 billion.

Industrial Revolution

As has happened in many cultures in the past, China was not content to grow at a slow and steady pace. With his introduction of what would become known as the "Great Leap Forward", Mao Zedong put forth policies putting forth changes that would transform China from a predominately agricultural society to an industrial society. These changes, which were put forth too soon and at too great a pace, would almost completely decimate the land and the people. In an already large and still growing society of people, lowering the amount of agricultural production was almost sure to lead to homegrown famine and starvation. When industrial production began to decline, the already impoverished nation was left with no food, but also no income to purchase food from the outside world. Millions would never live to tell their story.

Since the late 1970s, China has seen a need to make some changes not only to its domestic policies but also to its foreign policies. It was discovered that if they were to survive as a nation, they must be more open to investment and subsidies from other countries. Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong's successor, saw the value of an open door policy declaring, "It doesn't matter whether it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice."

While many improvements were made considering foreign policy during Deng's time, many more improvements have been since then. In 1998 the Chinese people were encouraged to begin buying their own houses, as opposed to living in company-owned houses. This led to a growth in the building sector. Although many businesses still remained the property of the government, many of the decisions formally made by the government, have now been handed over to the firm managers.

Although China has many more years and much more work to do, she has made drastic steps toward becoming a mighty global power. The people of China have the potential and wherewithal to become a great nation, but will they have the patience needed to succeed remains a viable question.

© 2018 Stephen Moore

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